Best Movies to Watch on a Plane

Credit - Netflix; Everett (4)

What makes a perfect movie to watch on a flight? A few core traits come to mind: something bright and easy to see on a small screen, fast-paced and entertaining enough to make you forget about how uncomfortable that cramped chair is. Today, it’s easier than ever to watch your pick of the endless options for viewing material; besides movies available through airlines, most streaming services include the option to download content ahead of time for offline viewing on phones, computers, or tablets.

Here are 15 of the best movies to watch on a plane—mostly lighthearted, funny fare to pass the time that doesn’t rely on a big screen to make it worth a watch.

Hit Man

We’re not even technically at summer yet, but this romantic crime comedy (inspired by a true story) will surely end up in my favorite movies of the year. Glen Powell stars as Gary Johnson, a college professor who pretends to be a hitman to entrap clients while moonlighting as an undercover cop—and ends up falling in love with Madison (Adria Arjona), a woman who hires him to kill her husband. Really, almost any of Richard Linklater’s movies would make a great plane movie, from Dazed and Confused to the Before trilogy to Everybody Wants Some; they all share Linklater’s signature blend of warmth and naturalistic humor, just as present as ever in Hit Man.

Little Miss Sunshine

Still one of the best products of the Sundance Film Festival hype, Little Miss Sunshine is a smartly calibrated crowd-pleaser: a family road trip movie where nobody fully gets over their problems but everyone makes some progress in learning about themselves. It’s funny, sweet, and occasionally heartbreaking—and its all-star ensemble features actors like Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, and Alan Arkin doing some of the best work of their careers.


If you’re looking for a bit of a longer, more involved viewing experience, check out JFK, Oliver Stone’s 1991 political thriller about the investigation into the assassination of the 35th president. JFK famously (and controversially) refused to stick to the established facts of the assassination, showcasing several prominent conspiracy theories. But setting aside the historical record, it works marvelously as a dense, kinetic thriller.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Eight years before taking the reins for the third and arguably best Iron Man movie, Shane Black directed this criminally underrated neo-noir black comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. in the performance that would attract Jon Favreau’s attention for his most famous (and lucrative) role. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang succeeds thanks to its very funny, cleverly meta script, but it also boasts delightful supporting performances from Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, and especially Val Kilmer—who, with Downey, comprises one of my favorite buddy-cop pairings ever.


Some viewers dismissed Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut as a Gen-Z Superbad rip-off, and sure, there are plenty of similarities, including the one-long-day-leading-up-to-a-party structure (not to mention the casting of Beanie Feldstein, Jonah Hill’s sister). But Booksmart is a totally solid teen comedy in its own right, anchored by the chaotic-best-friends dynamic between Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s characters.

Love & Basketball

Gina Prince-Bythewood has directed several hit movies since the early aughts, with Beyond the Lights and the historical action-adventure film The Woman King as particular highlights. But her best film is probably still her first: Love & Basketball, a romantic drama about two next-door neighbors (Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps) pursuing basketball careers in Los Angeles. Prince-Bythewood’s original goal was to make “a Black When Harry Met Sally,” and Love & Basketball has similarly persisted as a classic, weaving a tender love story and a riveting basketball story together to powerful effect.

Bend It Like Beckham

Another sports movie, but this one is a lot more light-hearted. Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham is another solid comedy-drama, a sweet and easy watch with a welcome thread of social commentary throughout. Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley star as Jess and Jules, two young women in Hounslow, London pursuing careers in professional football while pushing back against their parents’ prejudices and expectations.

Burn After Reading

This 2008 black comedy from the Coen brothers might not reach the height of their best work—like Fargo or No Country for Old Men—but it’s also not necessarily aiming for greatness. Burn After Reading sticks to the Coens’ formula of escalating, increasingly absurd and tragic misunderstandings, but it’s still a very funny, very dark screwball comedy (and a visually bright one, mostly set around Washington, D.C. in the daytime). If you’re not already sold, come for Brad Pitt as the himbo personal trainer Chad, probably the funniest performance in the mega-star’s filmography.

North By Northwest

Feeling dangerous, and want to watch Cary Grant get chased by a plane while you’re in a plane? Check out this stylish 1959 paranoid thriller, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular late-period films. Unlike some of the director’s darker, more noirish night-set movies, North by Northwest is easily legible at any time of the day and on any screen, an action movie that would go on to influence the genre for decades to come.

Notting Hill

Before Hugh Grant began leaning into his evil side in the early aughts by playing narcissistic cads in movies like Bridget Jones’s Diary and About a Boy, the ’90s (and screenwriter Richard Curtis) had already established him as one of the rom-com machine’s most charming leading men. Four Weddings and a Funeral is a classic, but I prefer 1999’s Notting Hill, a very funny movie about the relationship between an anxious, lovelorn bookseller and an American actress. Julia Roberts’ refreshingly sedate performance plays off Grant’s signature fidgety neuroticism flawlessly.

My Neighbor Totoro

Interested in something animated? My Neighbor Totoro is among one of the coziest movies ever made, which makes it an ideal watch for a flight. Sure, there’s an element of melancholy in the movie; the mother of Satsuki and Mei (played by the Fanning sisters in the acclaimed 2005 English dub) is in the hospital with a serious illness, necessitating the simple comforts of the famous titular wood spirit. Watching on a flight, you’ll be moved, but not emotionally wrecked—and with the bright, lush greens of the movie’s rural setting, you’ll still benefit from Hayao Miyazaki’s gorgeous visuals even on a smaller screen.

Some Like It Hot

Were it made today, the premise of this 1959 comedy—two male musicians disguise themselves as women to hide from the mafia after witnessing a crime—might raise eyebrows. But Billy Wilder’s masterpiece (one of six or seven, really) rarely goes for the most obvious joke. In fact, many credit the film’s depiction of men in drag (along with murder, gambling, and open sexuality) with helping weaken the Hays Code once and for all. The film has aged beautifully, especially thanks to Wilder’s warm direction and a trio of funny, endearing performances from Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe.

My Dinner with Andre

This one certainly doesn’t require a big screen to enjoy. That’s because Louis Malle’s 1981 comedy-drama My Dinner with Andre is, more than most other films, dominated by dialogue: André Gregory and Wallace Shawn star as fictionalized versions of themselves, sharing a long philosophical conversation over dinner. The conflict, if there is any, comes from the contrast in the two men’s perspectives; Andre’s stories of spiritual awakening sometimes butt up against “Wally’s” rational, scientific-minded way of moving through the world. But it’s mostly just about watching two intelligent men have a genuinely interesting conversation.

The Fugitive

The type of action thriller we got a lot of in the ’90s, but less often these days. The Fugitive is an ideal star vehicle for Harrison Ford, who plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a vascular surgeon framed for the murder of his wife. Kimble sets out to prove his innocence and find the real killer, pursued along the way by Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar). It’s exactly as fun as it sounds.


Amy Heckerling’s loose modern-day adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Emma left a huge imprint on popular culture in 1995, from the fashion trends to the many quotable lines (“As if!” among them). And it’s still hilarious today, with the iconic Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) serving as the perfectly delusional-yet-lovable protagonist with possibly the best movie voiceover ever. Even in 2024, there are few more purely joyful movie-watching experiences than Clueless.

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